Long Beach police Chief Billy Seal said the opioid crisis is not just a national problem anymore.
"We are definitely seeing more opioid-related crimes and deaths from overdoses," he said. "The laws are making it harder for people to get prescription drugs and abuse them, so we are seeing an increase in heroin in Long Beach."
Overdosing on opioids is the leading cause of death by narcotics in the country, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health, with an estimated almost 45,000 people dying from opioid abuse in 2016. That's 45,000 out of about 63,000 total drug deaths.
In an effort to help reduce the number of opioid-related deaths on the Coast, officers with the Long Beach Police Department will start carrying the drug Narcan (the brand name for Naloxone) beginning Wednesday.
Naloxone blocks the effects of opioids and can help prevent deaths from overdoses.
Harrison County had the most suspected overdoses in the state reported in 2017 with 38, MSDH reports. The county also led the state in the number of Naloxone administrations with 277 — that's more than Hinds County (243), which includes the state's largest city, Jackson.
Seal said his department is receiving the drug through a partnership with Gulf Coast HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area), a multi-agency task force with the goal of reducing drug activity on the Coast.
"We will be carrying Narcan in a nasal spray," he said. "We had a doctor from LSU come down and train us in how to recognize an overdose, how to administer the Narcan and how to recognize if the person is too far gone."
With the increased presence of opioids comes the increased risk of injury to an officer. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Exposure to the drug, even in a limited amount, can be harmful.
In April, a Brockton, Mass., police officer was hospitalized after being exposed to fentanyl.
"Part of the training we received dealt with how to properly handle opioids," Seal said. "Our officers have been trained to use gloves when they are searching cars and how to avoid getting too close to the narcotics so that it doesn't get in their faces."
Opioid usage in MS
A state report from 2017 shows that while prescription opioid usage was down, opioids contributed to almost 70 percent of drug-related deaths in the state at 256. That's two-thirds of the reported overdoses in the state.
"We have some officers who carry Narcan and who have been trained in how to use it," Biloxi police Maj. Chris De Back said. "We have seen some increase in opioid-related crimes and deaths in Biloxi but not at the rate of some other areas of the country."